x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Restoring order at QPR will be a stern test for Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes is inheriting a Queens Park Rangers team full of volatile personalties and a divided dressing room.

Struggling QPR have a squad full of combustible personalities.
Struggling QPR have a squad full of combustible personalities.

Everybody at Queens Park Rangers seems to have a story about Adel Taarabt, the infuriating yet outrageously talented Moroccan playmaker.

The well-worn tale is the one about Taarabt storming out of the club's awards night at the Metropole hotel in London last year after only being named runner-up in the voting for the Player of the Year.

Another is how the former Tottenham Hotspur schemer is so sure he will land a move away from the club this month that he has offered to give a club employee his BMW X6 if a move does not materialise.

More recently, he apparently went AWOL, along with his friend and teammate Armand Traore, on Friday night despite being named in the QPR squad for the FA Cup tie with MK Dons the following day, claiming he had to join up with Morocco ahead of the African Cup of Nations.

Marouane Chamakh, his countryman at Arsenal and more central to the national team's plans, played against Leeds United on Monday night.

Throw in Joey Barton, whose explosive personality has caused a divide in the dressing room, forthright characters such as Shaun Derry, Jay Bothroyd, who was thrown out of Arsenal for hurling his shirt at a coach, Fitz Hall and Kieron Dyer and a disaffected reserve team - most of whom would walk into clubs in the top tier of the Championship - with a combined wage bill of £6 million (Dh34m) a year and it goes some way to explaining the problems Neil Warnock faced and the size of the challenge Mark Hughes will have to deal with.

You do wonder, though, with a such a volatile squad why Tony Fernandes, the chairman, has invited potentially more problems by opening his doors to Kia Joorabchian, Hughes's adviser.

Ask any executive at Manchester City and they will tell you they are still sweeping up the havoc caused by Joorabchian at the Etihad Stadium.

The speed in which Hughes has been appointed, the fact no caretaker was placed in charge and that the back-room staff of Keith Curle, Ronnie Jepson and Mick Jones were all dismissed suggests Hughes had been lined up well in advance and the decks were cleared for his arrival. Hughes was the choice of the influential Barton who has a close relationship with the chairman and the chief executive.

The two players QPR have been linked with this month, Christopher Samba and Andrew Johnson, have both played under Hughes. Expect Nedum Onouha, who has links with Joorabchian and Hughes, to arrive at Loftus Road sooner rather than later, as long as QPR can find a compromise with City over the defender's wages.

Despite the outpouring of sympathy for the manner of his exit at City, Hughes did not leave a favourable impression on those he left behind in Manchester or Fulham.

His managerial career is very much at the crossroads and he has been forced to lower his expectations somewhat after apparently believing he would be in consideration for the then vacant jobs at Chelsea and Aston Villa when he left Fulham in acrimonious circumstances last summer.

He needs to rebuild his reputation at QPR by keeping them in the Premier League, the primary goal of Fernandes who is an astute enough businessman to recognise how badly the club need the financial windfall of another season in the top flight to offset a spiralling wage bill which is hugely disproportionate to the club's turnover.

To preserve their Premier League status, Hughes will need to swiftly unite the dressing room and, along with his trusty coaching assistants Mark Bowen, Eddie Niedzwiecki and Kevin Hitchcock who are likely to follow him to Loftus Road, perform some serious work on patterns of play and tactics on the training field. Warnock did very little coaching.

Hughes will also need to act decisively in the transfer market. The boardroom unrest at the start of the season meant Warnock missed out on primary targets Danny Graham and Steve Morison, and then panic bought on deadline day.

Fernandes backed Warnock then by sanctioning the big-money arrivals of Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips but gradually lost faith amid a nine-match winless run.

Fernandes described the decision to dismiss Warnock as his "toughest in 47 years".

He could be forced to make some even more difficult choices if Hughes fails to restore order and QPR are relegated.